Baking in Quarantine

Much as been made of stress-baking and procrasti-baking during quarantine. I am both thrilled and spiteful of this. Sort of an “I did it before it was cool” feeling, but also welcoming new friends into the fold.

I am absolutely no expert, and no genius. I’m a regular girl who likes chocolate and who likes to impress coworkers. I like the process of measuring, melting, leveling, folding, testing, and frosting. I like the satisfaction of being able to tell exactly when a cake is done by looking at it. I like finally being able to easily roll out a pie crust without holes. These steps are intense but peaceful, and create works of art. Made of chocolate.

Since I’ve been making dinner so much more often, and can’t bring my treats to work or parties, I’ve nearly baked less than usual, but have still managed to ingest a pretty solid amount of sugar. I’ll cover my yeasted goods in another post. Here are most of the treats I’ve made over the past few months.

America’s Test Kitchen Key Lime Pie. Truly one of the best desserts of all time. So easy, so few ingredients, incredibly delicious.

BA Basically Cardamom-Pistachio Carrot Cake (without the pistachios). Like, who has carrot juice during quarantine? Who likes nuts in their cake? I made this twice – TRUST ME: just make it without nuts and without the glaze and it will be the BEST afternoon-tea-time-don’t-feel-so-bad-cause-it’s-vegetables cake break you ever have.

BA Basically Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies. Like, who has buckwheat in quarantine? So just make these with regular AP flour and they will be fantastic. Pictured above.

Smitten Kitchen Pumpkin Bread. Always a classic. But turns out, even with chocolate chips, pumpkin just doesn’t pack the same punch in April.

Smitten Kitchen Ultimate Banana Bread. OMG this is so good with chocolate chips. It’s a really tough competition with the carrot cake up for the “BEST afternoon-tea-time-don’t-feel-so-bad-cause-it’s-fruit cake break.” I’ll have to keep making them to decide. I made a half-recipe of this in a 6-inch pan two or three times already. Michael doesn’t really eat cake, so it’s best not to have a FULL SIZE cake at home for JUST ME. Pictured on the home page.

Smitten Kitchen My Favorite Brownies. I actually tried to make a box brownie mix first, and I managed to BROIL them. My (very old school) oven has a bake/broil switch that is SO EASY to miss. Clearly the universe doesn’t want me making box mixes, because I had to chuck those and make these classic goodies instead.

Puff Pastry Herb Pesto Rolls. I made a basic pesto in the food processor with whatever I had in the fridge: parsley, a bit of other herbs, lemon, parmesan, almonds. Rolled them up into little rugelach shapes with Pepperidge Farm Puff Pastry and boom, impressive appetizer to bring to a party.

Smitten Kitchen “I Want Chocolate Cake” Cake. I also managed to broil this… somehow it was still perfect! Pretty easy, truly delicious, a nice small size for just a few people!

dinner in quarantine

I’ve been making a lot of dinner lately and I’ve loved it.

Generally (in the before-times) during the week, I get home from work off the train around 6:30 pm, have a glass of wine while I tidy up the house, pull together something fairly simple for myself and eat in front of the TV around 7:30.

Many other nights I’m working at an event and will scarf some hors d’oeuvres in the corner, before sprinting back to the small talk. If I’m lucky, Viga will give hand out to-go boxes at the end of the event and I’ll eat a second round of room-temperature apps at home. (Whoops.)

These days (in the forever????? times), the lack of commute means I have so much extra time to focus on dinner. (And really there’s nothing else to focus on…) It also means that my fiance, Michael, is home each day, rather than traveling for work, so I have even more reasons to make something great. I can even start something complicated during my lunch break and check on it throughout the afternoon.

Obviously, quarantine SUCKS in a million ways, but this new lifestyle of cooking dinner for two every night is definitely one of the best parts.

Throughout the workday, I check the fridge and figure out what I can make with what I have. During quarantine, I shop every two weeks. Having to think two weeks ahead AND try to use up everything makes me feel very WWII bride-hippie-homesteader. Like I said… not a lot else to focus on.

At left: an ideal quarantine cart. Brand name toilet paper AND paper towels??!?!? What luxury!

After I finish work, I go for a walk or do an online workout until 6:30 pm, and then begin my cooking project for the night. Michael finishes work around 8:00 pm, by which time I am ravenous, and we eat at our dining room table, half of which is now my desk. I decided we can’t eat in front of the TV anymore because… I don’t know, there has to be some level of civility left in our lives?

I’ve made some favorite recipes, tried a lot of new ones, and invented a number of things. I’ll get started with thing I made during the first month or two, in approximately chronological order.

Smitten Kitchen Baked Buffalo Wings . When your man eats buffalo fingers for approx. 40% of his meals, you gotta try to make them yourself. Huge success.

Smitten Kitchen Perfect Meatballs. The name says it all. Honestly always perfect and so easy.

Smitten Kitchen Chicken, Leek, and Rice Soup. Michael said it was a “little mushy”, but it’s also delicious. Plz stay tuned for a whole post on soup.

Chili Con Carne with gross cornbread. I think I riffed on this from Simply Recipes. Michael requested “less sweet” cornbread. So I took out the sugar. It didn’t go well.

Bon Appetit Chicken and Dumplings. Um YUM, I don’t know why I’ve never tried to make this before! Chicken soup/pot pie types of things are my absolute fav.

Random vegetable soup. Again, please look out for my upcoming “ugly soup” post.

Curried potatoes. This was at the beginning of quarantine when there was very little meat in the store and we were down to the BOTTOM of the barrel. Again, felt very homesteader/wartime to make a fully vegetarian pantry meal.

Ground Beef Tacos – Ortega Dinner Kit Style. I make these a LOT. It’s literally exactly like this. I try to make it a BIT better by sautéing diced red pepper and onion before cooking the meat, and adding some salsa and extra spices. But sometimes I make it worse because we just have arugula or something weird instead of iceberg lettuce. My taco: beef mixture, lettuce, sour cream, chopped tomatoes, salsa and/or hot sauce if I haven’t already accidentally made the beef too spicy, cheese for color, avocado if we have it. Michael’s taco: Beef, lettuce, hot sauce. Really.

LeftSmitten Kitchen Perfect Vegetable Lasagna. This really is perfect, and so adaptable with whatever vegetables you have. I make half in one smallish pan and half in another, and freeze one!

With that… I’ll leave you in suspense to see what I made during the next two months of quarantine!